To investigate the effects of nonuniform irradiation on the small intestine, we prepared 24 dogs for continent isoperistaltic ileostomies under aseptic surgical conditions and general anesthesia. After a 3-week recovery period, the ileum was catheterized with a fiberoptic endoscope to observe the intestinal mucosa and to harvest mucosal biopsies. The baseline macroscopic and microscopic appearance of the intestinal mucosa was determined. Two weeks later, the ileum was catheterized with a 100-cm soft tube containing 40 groups of three thermoluminescent dosimeters placed at equally spaced intervals, and a dose of either 4.5, 8, 10, 11, or 15 Gy60 Co γ rays was delivered to the right abdomen (nonuniform exposure). This method allowed a direct and precise assessment of the dose received at 40 sites located in the 100-cm intestinal segment. The intestinal mucosa was again evaluated 1, 4, and 6 days after irradiation. All animals exposed to 4.5 and 8 Gy survived, whereas none survived after 11 and 15 Gy. After exposure to 10 Gy, 60% of the animals died within 4-6 days and 40% survived with symptoms associated with both the intestinal and the hematopoietic syndromes. Crypt cell necrosis, blunting of villi, and reduction of the mucosal lining increased between 1 and 4 days after irradiation, and mucosal damage was correlated with intraintestinal dosimetry at Day 6. The granulocyte counts at Day 4 were significantly lower than baseline level in animals that died within 4-6 days but not in survivors. The present model appears to be realistic and clinically relevant, allowing the concurrent study of the intestinal and hematopoietic effects of high-dose nonuniform irradiation similar to that received by patients during radiation therapy as well as by radiation accident victims.

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